In Washington, married couples and registered domestic partners can avoid probate by signing a Community Property Agreement (CPA). In the agreement, the couple agrees that when one of them dies, all of that person’s property will pass directly to the other.
This kind of agreement works well for many couples, but it’s not right for everyone. Use a community property agreement only if you want all of your property to go to your spouse or partner.
How Community Property Agreements Work
A community property agreement states that when the first spouse or partner dies 1) all property both people own converts to community property and 2) all of the deceased person’s property immediately goes to the surviving spouse. Washington law permits all community property passed through a CPA to be transferred to the surviving spouse without probate, so the agreement keeps all of the deceased person’s property out of probate.
To use a CPA, you and your spouse or partner must agree to leave everything to each other, complete the document, and sign it in front of a notary public. When one spouse or partner dies, the survivor will become the owner of the deceased person’s property, without probate.
Limitations to a Community Property Agreement
CPAs are not for everyone. They involve some very important limitations. For example, a simple CPA, like the one Nolo sells:
- does not avoid probate for the surviving spouse
- remains in force if you separate
- doesn’t work if you die simultaneously
- does not allow gifts to children
- does not avoid probate for out-of-state real estate, and
- may affect eligibility for government benefits.
Read more about the Limitations of a Washington CPA.
How to Make a Community Property Agreement
If you decide that a simple and straightforward CPA will work for you, you can make one yourself using Nolo’s Washington Community Property Agreement .
More complicated CPAs require individualized drafting by an attorney. See a lawyer to help you make CPA if you want it to:
- convert all of your current and future property to community property
- include some of your property, but not all
- end if you legally separate, or
- control where property goes when the second spouse dies.
To find an estate planning lawyer in your area, try searching on Nolo’s Lawyer Directory.
Living With a Community Property Agreement
Even if a CPA is right for you, you’ll need to reevaluate your plan if your circumstances change, and it won’t be the only estate planning tool you’ll need.
Amending or Revoking Your CPA
You can amend or revoke your community property agreement at any time. To modify a CPA, have a lawyer draft a new one that meets your specific needs. To revoke your CPA, both you and your spouse or partner just need to sign a simple revocation.
Revoke your CPA if:
- you decide to separate
- you make a new estate plan for distributing your property, or
- you or your spouse become dependent on SSI or Medicaid.
The Nolo Washington CPA includes a revocation.
Additional Estate Planning
It is wise to pair a community property agreement with a basic will. A will lets you name an executor, nominate guardians for your minor children, and provide a backup plan in case you and your spouse die simultaneously. In your wills, you and your spouse should each leave all of your property to each other, and then name alternates who will take the property in the unlikely event you both die at the same time. If there are any inconsistencies between your will and your CPA, your CPA will be followed.
It’s also a good idea to make a living will, healthcare power of attorney, and durable power of attorney for finances.
A living will lays out your wishes for medical treatment in case you ever cannot speak for yourself. And using a healthcare power of attorney, you can name a person to make healthcare decisions for you if you can’t. Learn more about Living Wills and Healthcare Powers of Attorney on Nolo.com.
A durable power of attorney for finances lets you name someone who will take care of your finances if you can no longer do it yourself. In this document, you can also give that person (called your attorney-in-fact) the power to change or revoke your CPA. This could be very important if you or your spouse became incapacitated. Otherwise, to revoke or modify a CPA, a court would have to appoint a guardian for the incapacitated person. Learn more about Financial Powers of Attorney on Nolo.com.
You can read much more about estate planning in the Wills, Trusts, and Probate section of Nolo.com.